An attorney for the Carmel Clay Board of Parks and Recreation believes the City of Carmel is violating the law in its handling of some park impact fees waived by the Board of Public Works to benefit Carmel Redevelopment Commission projects.
Beginning in 2018, some waived park impact fees were counted as a credit that translated into an equivalent cash payment to the CRC rather than being designated for specific urban park infrastructure projects, according to CCPR Michael Klitzing, who gave a presentation on the topic at the Nov. 14 CCPR board meeting. He said this has also occurred every year since 2020 with the amount deposited into the CRC fund increasing each year.
Brian Bosma, an attorney for the CCPR board, described the process of converting waived impact fees to cash payments to the CRC as an “artifice” that he believes violates state law.
“They’re calling it a credit and saying, ‘deposit it over here,’” Bosma said. “The statute and the ordinance say any fees generated under the ordinance have to go into the impact fee fund. I don’t care if you call it a credit or a whatsit or a widget, it’s still generated by the ordinance and should go into the impact fee fund.”
CCPR board president Rich Taylor, who will become a member of the Carmel City Council on Jan. 1, 2024, said he also disagrees with the idea that waived park impact fees can be defined as credits and thus be deposited into the CRC fund without a specified use.
“It washes the money so it doesn’t have to be used in the way park impact fees are used,” Taylor said. “That’s the problem.”
Current has reached out to the City of Carmel for comment.
At the meeting, the CCPR board unanimously approved a resolution urging city leaders to take steps to ensure park impact fees help expand CCPR park amenities rather than support CRC projects. The resolution, which is not binding, calls for updating city code to require the CCPR board and city council to approve all future impact fee credits and for past deposits resulting from waived impact fees into any fund not controlled by CCPR to be reimbursed to CCPR.
The resolution also asks that the BPW, the only municipal body besides the CCPR board that can waive park impact fees, defer all such requests through the end of the year to allow the incoming mayor and city council an opportunity to review them. The BPW members are Mayor Jim Brainard and his two appointees, Lori Watson and Mary Ann Burke. Brainard will leave office at the end of the year.
The BPW is set to review five park impact fee waiver requests at its Nov. 15 meeting, set for 10 a.m. at Carmel City Hall. The pending requests total more than $10 million that, if approved by the BPW, would be dedicated to park infrastructure – which is not defined by city code – within CRC projects rather than to expand CCPR amenities.
At the CCPR meeting, Klitzing said that if the BPW approves the proposed impact fee waivers, more than 62 percent of all funds generated through impact fees since 2013 (when the first waiver was approved) will have gone to the CRC. When looking at the numbers since 2020, that total rises to more than 81 percent, he said.
“It is no longer a parks funding source,” Klitzing said. “It is a CRC funding source.”
A park impact fee of $4,882 is charged for every new dwelling unit built in the city to help the park system expand to serve a growing population. In 2010 the city council gave the BPW authority to waive park impact fees in lieu of developers building park infrastructure, such as outdoor plazas. Other items deemed park infrastructure have included planters, bike racks and pavers, Klitzing said.
Klitzing said city financial records show that funds collected by the CRC in lieu of park impact fees have been used to pay for improvements to the Interurban trailhead, which he said violates state law for impact fee use because it improves an existing amenity rather than expands the park system, and for the $2 million Palladiscope light projection show on the Palladium exterior.
“Originally it was proposed that one of the bonds issued by the city be used for the Palladiscope project, but the city council was not particularly fond of that. So, instead of using bond dollars they used impact fee dollars,” Klitzing said. “I’m not saying the Palladiscope isn’t an incredible asset for the community, but the question is, is it really a park and recreation infrastructure?”
Several people raised concerns about the park impact fee waivers during the public comment portion of the meeting, including Clay Township Trustee Paul Hensel. He expressed frustration that the township borrowed money to fund several recent park improvements as the city, which is also partially responsible for funding CCPR, sent park funds elsewhere.
“It’s not really taking (money), they’re basically stealing it to use it for another project or entice someone to build there,” he said. “It’s wrong.”
No one representing the CRC or BPW attended the meeting.